Efficacy of a mobile social networking intervention in promoting physical activity: quasi-experimental study

Huong Ly Tong*, Enrico Coiera, William Tong, Ying Wang, Juan C. Quiroz, Paige Martin, Liliana Laranjo da Silva

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)
54 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Technological interventions such as mobile apps, Web-based social networks, and wearable trackers have the potential to influence physical activity; yet, only a few studies have examined the efficacy of an intervention bundle combining these different technologies.

Objective: This study aimed to pilot test an intervention composed of a social networking mobile app, connected with a wearable tracker, and investigate its efficacy in improving physical activity, as well as explore participant engagement and the usability of the app.

Methods: This was a pre-post quasi-experimental study with 1 arm, where participants were subjected to the intervention for a 6-month period. The primary outcome measure was the difference in daily step count between baseline and 6 months. Secondary outcome measures included engagement with the intervention and system usability. Descriptive and inferential statistical tests were conducted; posthoc subgroup analyses were carried out for participants with different levels of steps at baseline, app usage, and social features usage.

Results: A total of 55 participants were enrolled in the study; the mean age was 23.6 years and 28 (51%) were female. There was a nonstatistically significant increase in the average daily step count between baseline and 6 months (mean change=14.5 steps/day, P=.98, 95% CI –1136.5 to 1107.5). Subgroup analysis comparing the higher and lower physical activity groups at baseline showed that the latter had a statistically significantly higher increase in their daily step count (group difference in mean change from baseline to 6 months=3025 steps per day, P=.008, 95% CI 837.9-5211.8). At 6 months, the retention rate was 82% (45/55); app usage decreased over time. The mean system usability score was 60.1 (SD 19.2).

Conclusions: This study showed the preliminary efficacy of a mobile social networking intervention, integrated with a wearable tracker to promote physical activity, particularly for less physically active subgroups of the population. Future research should explore how to address challenges faced by physically inactive people to provide tailored advices. In addition, users’ perspectives should be explored to shed light on factors that might influence their engagement with the intervention.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12181
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • mobile apps
  • fitness trackers
  • exercise
  • social networking


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